By Emily Chow
Unfinished Business was a documentary that looked into the lives of three Japanese-Americans (Hirabayashi, Korematsu, and Yasui) that attempted to escape the relocation of inhabitants of Japanese ancestry along the Pacific Coast. Using terms as “evacuation” and “relocation centers” during WWII, the U.S. government attempted to justify their wrongdoings by claiming it was necessary for the well-being of the country, and for acts of disloyalty as an American citizen. The justifications used were neither coherent nor had substantial basis. No single instance of sabotage from Japanese-Americans occurred; these events were results of racially-infused hostility.
It was horrific listening to the testimonies of those who lived and survived during this time. Families, children, elderly were tagged and herded as animals on cramped trains with little to none personal belongings. They were sprayed with chemical powder once they entered these facilities and given assigned barracks with straw mattresses and no heating. One survivor noted that in additional to being physically trapped, there was “mind incarceration.” The Japanese-Americans just did not understand why or how, as American citizens, they were being treated this way. Why were every bit of their lives being watched? Why was it necessary when police broke through their houses in search for “suspected contraband”?
After the war, the U.S. tried to redress their wrongdoings by passing the Civil Liberties Act by awarding $20,000 to those who survived these camps. Did the cost of $1.6B dollars to the American budget accurately justify the years of mental and physical deterioration? This internment has destroyed future generations, so giving an associated “price tag” to what this dent in American history is worth is simply disturbing.
Also, what is interesting is that one of the most devaluing events in our nation’s history is barely talked about in classrooms. Middle and high school history textbooks gloss it over, and only when students decide to concentrate on Asian studies during their university years does it come to light. In fact, Unfinished Business describes how even during the second trial of the Korematsu vs. U.S. case, the government attempted to destroy evidence that internment ever occurred, citing political reasons and military necessity. It was not until later on in our history that archives were discovered detailing the racist judgments and reasoning behind the imprisonment program.
Overall, this movie has shown the importance of legal and political action in fighting for rights and against the injustices towards the Asian-American community. Although Korematsu was under pressure from other internees to not go against the U.S., that only furthered his passion and ambition to take the case to court. As a result, progress was made when America admitted to their wrongdoings and uncovered the foundation of their past hatred. This can be applied to our generation today; as Asian-Americans with more rights, freedoms, and knowledge than ever before, we have the advantages and abilities to jumpstart societal change.
By Cassie Lin
In the spring of 1942, more than 100,000 American citizens of Japanese ancestry were forcibly removed from their homes and without a hearing or a trial, place in internment camps. Unfinished Business, tells the story of three Japanese-American men who resisted the executive order 9066. Their names were Fred Korematsu, Minoru Yasui and Gordon Hirabayashi. Their resistance eventually led them to their arrest and their imprisonment. All three cases reached the Supreme Court and in all three cases, the Court had upheld the convictions and did not declare the Order unconstitutional, stating that it was necessary. Forty years later, the new generation worked to bring their parents and grandparents justice. What was shocking was that no Japanese-American was ever accused of espionage or sabotage during the war.
This topic usually isn’t presented in most American history books; in fact, I even didn’t learn much about it until I took an Asian American Studies class in Northeastern. Watching the movie made me feel shocked at how the US government could issue such an order. It was also surprising to note that nobody stood up to it. What was even more shocking was that it took almost forty years for these men to get justice and for Congress to admit that they made a mistake. In 1988, Congress awarded each surviving intern $20,000.
This order was more than a maltreatment of Japanese-Americans. Property and possessions were lost, families were broken apart, and ultimately, people questioned their loyalty. It provoked that the government and military that it was okay to do mass incarceration as long as it was a “military necessity.” Even though most of the Japanese-Americans were Nisei, or Japanese Americans born in the United States, it made no difference because there was rampant anti-Japanese paranoia.
As an Asian American, I believe the reason why this particular topic isn’t taught more in schools is because it’s a shameful part in American History and they don’t want anyone else to see it. However, I believe there needs to be more awareness on this event. Not only do we not want history to repeat itself again, but it’s important to note that this is something key in Asian American History. Never in the history of the United States has a specific minority group have had their citizenship revoked. While people may say that it has never reached the levels of Nazi death camps, it was indeed a dark mark on America’s history as of respecting liberties and cultural differences.
By Sam Tan
I watched the documentary Unfinished Business: The Japanese-American Internment Cases which tells the story of the internment of about 120,000 Japanese immigrants and their descendants in the United States due to Executive Order 906 as a result of the bombing of Pearl Harbor in World War II. It focused mostly on the stories of Gordon Hirabayashi, Fred Korematsu, and Min Yasui; three prominent figures that stood up for the rights of the Japanese-Americans during internment period. I was interested in watching this documentary because I had previously been exposed to the issue, but I never looked indepthly at the details of what happened. Watching this documentary was eye-opening for me.
As I watched the documentary, I was shocked about how Japanese-Americans were treated as a whole by the U.S. government. They had no hand in the bombing of Pearl Harbor, but were still ostracized by their fellow Americans as if they were violent aliens. Something that caught my interest was the definition of the word “evacuation” in the documentary. The word was defined as a humanitarian term relating to catastrophes wherein leaving their residence was for the people’s “benefit” and “at their request”. This misnomer for the relocation, or even encampment, downplayed the social implications of the issue. Gordon Hirabayashi further explained that although the Japanese immigrants and their descendants understood they were being treated unjustly and were being discriminated against, their main focus was to cope with the issue rather than confront it. Hearing this made me feel odd inside because I’m used to voicing my confusion or frustration, especially if something was being done wrongly against me, but in this instance, they were doing nothing.
The idea Asian Americans and discrimination in American history were never really two words that went together in my head. Watching this Unfinished Business, definitely changed my thinking. It hit me when individuals who experienced being in the relocation centers as kids talked about how they felt at the time of internment. One man said he had never been to Japan before the internment and didn’t even know anything about Japanese, but just because he “just happened to have a Japanese face”, the government relocated his family and him. Reactions from former internees show that the government clearly feared a people it didn’t know too well, nor did they try to understand them better. Fred Korematsu described the the relocation centers as “made for horses, not for humans”. The Japanese-Americans weren’t even treated like proper humans, being subjected to less than suitable living arrangements. During their time of internment, the Japanese-Americans spent three and a half years of their lives in lost dignity.
Not until 40 years after their release did the third generation of the Japanese-Americans decide that it was time to amend the wrongdoings against their predecessors. A team of mostly Japanese-American attorneys employed a rarely used writ of of error coram nobis in court to get Fred Korematsu’s, Gordon Hibayashi’s, and Min Yasui’s case overturned. They presented the case that “high government officials knowingly lied to the Supreme Court and committed acts of misconduct by suppressing, altering, and destroying key evidence” that held up the legality of the cases. On November 10, 1983, Fred Korematsu’s case was overturned and opened the door for those who experienced interment to feel hopeful and dignified again.
After watching the documentary, I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in the lesser known social justice issues that happened in U.S. history. The lives of the Fred Korematsu, Gordon Hibayashi, and Min Yasui are inspirational to those looking to uphold the dignity and respect of the future of the Asian American community.